One of the joys of my new assignment as host of Dodger Talk on KABC is getting to go to spring training in Florida, and one of my joys as a dad is being able to bring my son along with me. For five days Matt and I drove around the state, went to ballgames, watched ballplayers in their natural habitat, and bonded as only a father and son can at Hooters.
First stop was Ft. Myers. As a blog reader reminded me, it's in the county with the highest foreclosure rate in the nation. Every county wants to be number one.
Ft. Myers is the spring home of the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox. I saw a thousand people wearing Red Sox hats and jerseys. The only time I saw the Twins logo was on a really scary rally monkey in a CVS pharmacy.
Stayed at the LaQuinta Inn. There's a sign in the elevator: "In case of fire - RUN."
People think of Ft. Myers as a beach community, a golf community. No, it's the home of furniture stores. Hundreds and hundreds of furniture stores. No wonder there're so many foreclosures. In every condo there must be seven divans, 11 coffee tables, and three dining room sets. Who has anything left over for mortgage payments?
Ft. Myers is also where Thomas Edison invented the phonograph so it's the birthplace of music piracy.
Hit the Dodgers-Red Sox game on Thursday at City of Palms Park, not too far from the estate of noted anti-Semite Henry Ford. It was a typical well-played spring game with the Dodgers scoring seven runs in the ninth inning off of two pitchers who will spend the summer as mop-up men in a beer league.
Convenience stores don't get robbed enough that a Florida chain had to name theirs "Grab n' Go"?
On Friday we hit the ATM machine at the Fifth Third Bank (I'd hate to be the voice-over announcer doing those commercials), took in the Red Sox game, and sat with ESPN baseball guru Peter Gammons who told us some great stories like the kid who played winter ball in Venezuela and mailed an entire shipment of cocaine to the team's spring training ballpark. He's in the outfield one day and seven federal agents call time and take him away in handcuffs.
The three-hour drive across the state through "Deliverance Country" went without incident. No banjos, no townfolk who make Henry Ford seem like the B'nai Brith Man of the Century.
You think I'm kidding? There's a Yeehaw Junction.
Based on a three star rating, we checked into the Windsor Garden Hotel in Palm Beach Gardens. Their slogan: "Taste and see the artistry." Our tiny room was practically on the highway. We could see and taste the artistry of fumes. There went one star.
Since it was Friday night and even the Outback Steakhouse had a 70 minute wait (Why??? It's an Outback Steakhouse!), we decided to give the hotel's highly regarded restaurant a try. It was five tables and a bar filled with loud drunks from Ohio. The waiter was also the one bartender and I imagine the fine chef. There went star number two.
Later in the room, I stepped into the bathroom to discover water pouring down from the ceiling. A virtual waterfall that destroyed all of my toiletries. We were moved to an upgraded room. Next to the drunks from Ohio. Three stars and you're out.
Caught up with the Dodgers again Saturday at Jupiter to play the Cardinals and do my first of two daily radio shows. There was nowhere to sit. You'd think with all those goddamn furniture stores in this state they would have a few chairs.
NFL icon Bill Parcells was in the next booth with Tommy Lasorda. They played a three-hour game of "Can you top this?" Tommy won because he now has his own brand of wine. I so wish I were making that up.
In the 7th inning a vendor yelled out, "Last call for beer and soda!" Soda??? People can't drink soda after 3p.m.?
On to Vero Beach after the game. Thought I saw one motorist off to the side failing a breathalyzer test for having one Pepsi too many.
Matt, my broadcast partner Josh Suchon, and I went to grab a fast bite before our radio show. We made the colossal mistake of going to Applebee's. Yes, it had tiffany lamps and was very colorful. But as the saying goes: "you can put lipstick on a pig, it's a still a pig." The worst service ever from a staff that collectively was dumber than Kellie Pickler. The food, when it finally arrived after an hour, was essentially army chow with fun names. As we were leaving, one of the Dodgers was coming in. We told him, "No!! Go back! Go somewhere else!" He did. I consider it a favor worthy of his next World Series ring.
This is probably the Dodgers' final season at Vero Beach. For 60 years they've been coming to this converted World War II naval base and it is finally sinking in why the Navy chose this location. It takes forever to get to it. No Axis Power army would bother. So you can understand why even die hard fans from Los Angeles go as far as the Epcot Center and stop.
But if you do arrive, it is baseball heaven. Fans can stand right by the batting cages and practice fields. It's your chance to call a guy "a piece of shit" and have him actually hear it!
Streets in the complex are named after Dodger Hall-of-famers. "Jackie Robinson Ave.," "Duke Snider Drive," "Vin Scully Way." Next year the Baltimore Orioles might take up residence there. Somehow it won't be the same walking down "Boog Powell Road," "Moe Drabowsky Blvd.," "Gus Triandos Way."
Larry King was on hand for Sunday's game. He threw out the ceremonial first wife.
Did our three-hour radio show from the press box Sunday night. We were on the scene live to call the action if a fan who had too much Tommy Lasorda wine snuck onto the field and took a pee. I've got to say I love my broadcast team. My partner Josh is terrific and a breeze to work with, and our producer/engineer extraordinaire (also named) Josh keeps us laughing even when we have to go back on the air in five seconds with the injury report.
Drove to Orlando on Monday to reluctantly fly home. I found it amusing that just after you pass Disney World there's a billboard advertising VASECTOMY.COM: "It's easier than you think".
If you turned in an Avis car needing gas, it was $7.20 a gallon. If you went to the gas station right near the rental car return locations it was $4.60 a gallon. But if you drove another two blocks (like we did) it was $3.19.
This was one trip I hated to see end. So many laughs and stone crabs. And as a lifelong Dodger fan, it was a very meaningful experience for me to be able to introduce my son to the players. I just wish he wasn't wearing his Red Sox sweatshirt when I did it.
You can read more from Ken at kenlevine.blogspot.com